ROBERT SIMMS v. PENNY Q. SEAMAN et al., SC 18839
Judicial District of New Haven
Torts; Immunity; Whether the Doctrine of Absolute Immunity Bars Claims of Fraud and Emotional Distress Brought Against Attorneys for Conduct Occurring During Judicial Proceedings. The plaintiff brought this action against his ex-wife's former attorneys, claiming fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress in connection with their failure to disclose his ex-wife's true financial circumstances during postdissolution proceedings. He alleged that, although the attorneys knew that their client had become the beneficiary of a substantial money bequest, they nonetheless represented that she was under financial duress such that the plaintiff should be compelled to pay for her support. The trial court rendered judgment for the defendants, finding that claims against attorneys for conduct occurring during judicial proceedings are barred by the doctrine of absolute immunity. The Appellate Court (129 Conn. App. 651) affirmed the trial court's judgment, ruling that, insofar as the plaintiff alleged a "fraud on the court," Connecticut does not recognize that cause of action under the circumstances here. It then distinguished the plaintiff’s fraud claims from claims of vexatious litigation against opposing counsel, which are not barred by the doctrine of absolute immunity. It reasoned that there are stringent requirements for maintaining a vexatious litigation suit that minimize the risk of inappropriate litigation and that such restraints are not present here. Instead, the Appellate Court likened the defendants' actions here to the making of statements in court proceedings that are alleged to be defamatory, which are not actionable under the doctrine of absolute immunity. It found that it is certainly foreseeable that if a cause of action for fraud against opposing counsel for alleged acts or omissions during the course of litigation were permitted, there would be a chilling effect on the attorney-client relationship and on an attorney’s zealous representation of his or her client. Finally, the Appellate Court held that, as the plaintiff's emotional distress claims were founded on the same conduct as his fraud claims, they too were barred by the doctrine of absolute immunity. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Appellate Court properly affirmed the trial court's judgment.